One, Two, Tres, Cuatro: Roadie
The shot about midway through 'Roadie' that travels from her sparkling shoes slowly up to her beaming face – that's Margaret Moser.
The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar is showing Roadie on Monday night, March 5, as part of the Austin Film Society's Texas Film Hall of Fame Honoree preview series. While it's an exaggeration to call this film a cult classic, Roadie certainly qualifies as definitive Austin pop culture.
How Roadie came to be involves more of those tales of the Austin Sun in 1976 and 1977, when the underground biweekly shined its brightest. It then dimmed in circumstances not unlike those played out in Between the Lines, the film that lies at the heart of the Chronicle's own mythos. The Sun, however, came with its own pop culture connections that led to its staff (and many club scenesters) being used as extras in a 1977 Peter Fonda film called Outlaw Blues.
The shoot for Outlaw Blues took place at the old Soap Creek Saloon, which is the name to distinguish it from the later Soap Creek Saloons on North Lamar then South Congress. All the Soap Creeks have passed into history, but that first one on Bee Caves Road that George and Carlyne Majewski opened in 1973 was a legend in its own right. And to be 22 in the summer of 1976 and working for a company that let its staff out of the office to film a scene with Mr. Easy Rider was just too good to be real.
My memory is of a midsummer day, pop-that-Lone-Star-open-at-10am hot. We stood in line for what felt like hours and then herded into the club, so unfamiliar in daylight. The tables were arranged for camera placement, and Greezy Wheels took the stage for the scene in which Fonda's con-on-the-run character, Bobby Ogden, ducks the cops after performing onstage. We were paid in beer and given free packs of cigarettes to create that smoky atmosphere no longer seen in Austin bars.
I wore blue jean cutoffs and my Doug Sahm T-shirt that was a special edition by the godfather of underground comics Jack Jackson, who was also busy that summer drawing logos for Oat Willie's, ingeniously flanked with bluebonnets and fine buds of sinsemilla. I remember what I was wearing because the camera blocking my view of the stage turned and caught me just as I was following directions with the crowd to "look around."
Now, lots of locals got more screen time than my few seconds. Local diva Natalie Zoe walked across a lawn in a party scene, and future Playboy Playmate Janet Quist scored an actual role. But I got enough screen time to make my Port Arthur cousin Dan, serving in the Navy on the other side of the world at the time, stand up during a screening of it in a submarine and say, "That's my cousin!" My other Port Arthur cousins Anne, Dave, and Jan got in trouble for coming home late because they stayed through a second showing to make sure it was me.
It brought me a few months of notoriety, too, and lot of free beers at Soap Creek. Three years after Outlaw Blues came out, Roadie arrived in Austin to shoot. The Sun no longer filled local news racks on alternate weeks, but much of its staff beamed in behind the scenes of Roadie. My fellow writers Big Boy Medlin and Michael Ventura boasted screenplay and story credits because the scenario spun out of Big Boy's Sports Why Not column in the Sun (see "Letters at 3AM: 'Roadie': 30 Years Later," March 26, 2010). Jeff Nightbyrd landed a job as location manager. Ginger Varney was actually in the film – with a speaking role! The stars included Art Carney and Meat Loaf, who is being inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame on Thursday, March 8, at the Moody Theater.
If Outlaw Blues captured Austin's redneck rock scene for its setting, Roadie used it as a stepping-off point. Alvin Crow and Asleep at the Wheel accrued screen time with Roy Orbison, Alice Cooper, and Blondie. Horse racing track Manor Downs disguised itself as an Idaho rock festival, while hip Eighties venue Club Foot gussied up as L.A.'s Whisky a Go Go. This led to a couple of weeks of good fun around town with movie and rock stars. While working the door at Raul's, I waved all of Blondie, minus Debbie Harry, into the club for free, totally starstruck.
I'd also been asked by Jeff Nightbyrd to put the word out to the local punks to be extras, because the Whisky a Go Go scene was pivotal to the plot. I did. This time, we got paid with a catered lunch, beer, and a black T-shirt that said "Roadie" on front and "I was in the movie" on back. We also got to go into makeup. The two L.A. makeup queens loved their job creating punky looks on willing subjects oiled up on beer and ego and cinema dreams. They put four colors in my hair and styled the home-chopped shag into a punky do that I later went to Texas Terri Laird to maintain.
The look I cobbled together involved a cap like John Lennon wore in A Hard Day's Night, plus a black satin shirt, a lacy black push-up bra from Frederick's of Hollywood, black underwear, and black fishnet hose. I also sported a pair of strappy, exquisite disco heels with flattering gold platforms and shiny red straps. I worshipped those shoes and teetered around dangerous places, like behind the old Soap Creek. Future Go-Go's bassist Kathy Valentine bought the same pair in turquoise and gold – on the sale rack at the old deco Scarbrough's Downtown!
Shooting the scene consisted of the usual hurry-up-and-wait. I sat with Phil Tolstead, lead singer of the Huns, the band that landed Austin on the international punk map with the notorious Raul's bust of September 1978, and E.A. Srere, then playing in the Chickadiesels. Assorted others from the local scene milled about, plus a few dozen people I'd never seen – and I knew most of the punk community, or so I thought. It wasn't until the following September that I recognized the effect UT had on the music scene: annually presenting the town with thousands of young creative minds wanting to observe as well as participate.
But that vaguely wintry day, it was slow going on the Roadie set, and we were bored, strewn around the picnic tables that littered the lowest level at Club Foot, which sat at the northwest corner of Fourth and Brazos, next to the bus station. The ceiling was low and the air dank; that level had once been the basement of a building that had known life as other rock clubs, including Boondocks and Crazy Bob's, and before that a seedy strip joint.
My back was to the dance floor and stage, where Standing Waves was cast as a mime-faced band called Spittle. Someone's hands touched my shoulders and everyone at the table stared, wide-eyed. Director Alan Rudolph was crooking his finger at me. I followed him to the floor where he pointed to a spot in front of the stage and stood as they adjusted lights and populated the rest of the scene.
When the shoot finally started, the camera was just feet away, pointed at me. Or rather at my hawt shoes. It travels up my legs – a tribute to the illusion of fishnet stockings! – and to my face, deep in fake conversation, then across the others. Further footage was shot of frenetic pogoing and a kind of early moshing we called skanking. Finally, we were gathered on the dance floor and whipped up for a final dance scene.
Standing Waves, who will also be at the Alamo Drafthouse on Monday, peeled out with keyboards. We were ready, springing and bouncing and doing the old-school friendly slam dances while Meat Loaf as the titular roadie Travis Redfish and the female lead Kaki Hunter played rock & roll Romeo and Juliet.
"Fall on the ground!" we were directed, and we did, in tangles of neon spandex, moussed hair, and punk accoutrements. As we fell, we were showered in a dust from above. It wafted down and covered us, and we looked appropriately surprised and stunned. As it turned out in the film, we'd been hit by an earthquake.
For a few years there, Outlaw Blues and Roadie loomed small as less-than-stellar films in my view (though I have grown to love them), so I foolishly blew it the next time a chance came in the early Nineties to work as an extra. A cultic young director sporting a Prince Valiant haircut and who sometimes hung around the Chronicle talking to Louis Black was shooting a party scene outside town for his new film, and they were looking for people to populate the furthest reaches of the crowd. It was a deadline night and my office mate Marjorie Baumgarten tried to prod me into going, but there must have been a new Larry Sanders episode waiting for me at home, because I didn't budge.
Later, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused became one of my all time favorite films.